By Robert Schlesinger |
President Barack Obama won last night's debate by a small margin because he mustered his authority as the incumbent commander-in-chief. Romney outperformed expectations. He kept a calm demeanor and didn't get flustered. Foreign Policy isn't his forte and he was at a disadvantage at the outset. There was only a limited possibility for him to hit a home run. But this isn't to say that if he does get elected he won't learn about international affairs on the job—all presidents, except probably Eisenhower, have had to do so.
What most detracted from Romney's performance were his contradictory statements. In particular, his troubling reversal of his stance on demobilizing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He has said several times in the past that he'd "evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commander," but last night he said, "When I'm president, [I'll] make sure we bring our troops [home] by the end of 2014." This debate didn't end the perception that Romney is too mutable. Voters will have to decide whether or not to vote for him based on his style, not his substance.
Both candidates engaged in too much "answer-creep." That is, making efforts to veer the debate back to domestic policy by linking it to foreign policy. Although this is mostly an election about the economy, they should have stayed on topic. Viewers would have probably had an easier time following along. And if they wanted to do so, linking foreign policy to the economics of globalization would have been a more appropriate way to balance the two areas.
It is glaringly apparent that the past four debates haven't adequately fulfilled their democratic function: to help voters get enough information on the candidates to cast an informed vote. The debates were like interviews that gave the candidates one more time to spout their taking points ad nauseam. A better approach would have been to have the questions focus on issues that haven't come up on the trail, like the European debt crisis, the growing economic power of Brazil and India, the Navy's decisions to shift assets to the Pacific Rim, cyber warfare, conflicts brewing over rights to the Arctic Ocean, and Mexico's escalating drug wars. These are topics that the candidates have not prepared for and had they come up, their answers may have more concretely revealed foreign policy acumen.
About Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College
Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Lara Brown Assistant Professor of Political Science at Villanova University
Brad Bannon President of Bannon Communications Research